BY JOSEPH DAGDIGIAN
“Strong Minds” (Հզոր Միտք) is a pan-Armenian youth NGO with connections throughout Armenia, Javakh, and Artsakh. Established in 2019 to help stabilize the country by working with Armenia’s youth, it assists in their development, supports regional youth programs, and fosters both formal and informal education to create a sense of unity.
A major accomplishment of the Strong Minds NGO was the establishment of Student Home, (Ուսանողի Տուն), a residence in Yerevan for village students enrolled in Yerevan’s colleges and universities. Besides providing a residence which may otherwise not be affordable for students or their parents, it establishes an environment for village students transplanted into a big city. Here, in attractive surroundings, students from remote villages make important connections. Together, they are able to address common problems. Student Home’s facilities have a modern kitchen, library, a room for meetings or events, and programs such as lectures and field trips. Finances permitting, Student Home would like to provide assistance for the neediest students who may require financial support.
Strong Minds’ youth activities include the organization of regional youth events, classes, seminars with a focus on Armenian history, and cultural values embodied in Armenia’s villages. Links have been established between youth in Armenia, Artsakh, and Javakh. Over 15 inter-regional youth events, with more than 40 visits to Armenian villages, has been conducted with numerous webinars and seminars offered on a variety of topics.
In 2022, 480 young Armenians from Javakh, Artsakh, and Armenia gathered in Yerevan to learn from business and industry experts about creative thinking and management. Later, in February, a similar size group from across Armenia gathered in Dsegh village, in Lori marz, where opportunities for self-development and community development was discussed.
In the end of April 2022, a large group gathered at Yerevan’s Aram Khachatryan opera house where talented musicians from Armenia’s regions demonstrated their national music to the enjoyment of nearly 500 youth and guests. Out of town students attending events in Yerevan had the opportunity to stay with fellow students at Student Home.
In Fall 2022, about 160 participants gathered in the ancient Armenia capital of Dvin, in Ararat marz, where Strong Minds opened the event with teenagers from nearby Arevashat village playing Armenian folk music. Lectures on the struggles of Armenian hero Karekin Njdeh and his ideology were presented, followed by a presentation of Media Literacy, a huge problem in rural areas. After coffee, a seminar on Armenian artistic motifs ensued, followed by a quiz on Armenian history and literature.
During a visit to Student Home this past fall, I attended a presentation by a guest lecturer who discussed a host of issues: politics, security, literature, and a number of other topics during an hour plus lecture. The students were highly focused on these topics and thoroughly questioned, and in some instances thoughtfully challenged, some of the analyses of the speaker. It was clearly evident that these students were highly informed on a host of issues.
During a number of interviews students expressed both an attachment to their villages and a determination to work for their village’s improvement. Their plans included the establishment of youth organizations and activities, helping handicapped individuals, teaching, improving infrastructure, and enhancing security. Student Home students Tatev from Aragatsavan, Aragatsotn marz; Suzy from Ashnak, Lori marz; and Aghunik from Sanahin, also in Lori marz have already established youth centers in their villages where young Armenians gather to watch movies, play sports, and generally meet and develop ideas.
About 80 young people from across Armenia gathered at an event organized by Student Home resident Ruzanna in her home village of Artabuynk, in Vayots Dzor marz. There youth from various regions learned of the village’s unique history, culture, and cuisine and visited the impressive fortress of Smbataberd. That evening the group gathered around a campfire and danced Armenian dances.
Additionally, Student Home members participated in the establishment of a number of organizations. “Badani” is an organization that provides team building, entertainment events, and national dance training. “Akunk” carries out cultural heritage preservation in villages, helps organize traditional events and celebrations, and attempts to preserve traditional Armenian designs by incorporating them into modern products such as clothes. “Eatie” produces gift boxes of produce from local villages.
In late 2022, approximately 600 young Armenians from Armenia, Artsakh, and Javakh gathered at Yerevan’s Elite Business Center together with over 60 guests from various fields who came to establish connections with, and support for, the establishment of strong communities. Twelve speakers made presentations on education, art, IT, agriculture, science, and critical thinking. This session concluded with lessons on traditional Armenian dances, led by the Karin dance group, in which over 650 people participated. In a tribute to the ongoing struggle in Artsakh, a group of dancers formed a dance line spelling “Արցախ” (Artsakh).
Armenia’s villages are a crucial element in the preservation of Armenia’s character, culture, and security. Strong Minds and Student Home, and the young Armenian women and men from Armenia’s villages who are participating in these activities, are essential for Armenia’s future.